By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Members of global alliance of Migrant Filipinos Migrante International marked the 17th year death anniversary of Flor Contemplacion with a protest action held on March 17 at the Chino Roces Bridge (former Mendiola Bridge). This time, they are protesting against the US wars of aggression and deployment of troops in the Asia Pacific region, including the Philippines.
Flor Contemplacion was an overseas Filipino who was sentenced to die in Singapore in 1995 for allegedly killing a fellow Filipino domestic helper.
The OFW and their families marched along Recto to Chino Roces bridge. They also condemned President Benigno S. Aquino III’s puppetry and subservience to US dictates on the country’s political and economic affairs as it endangers the lives of migrant workers and Filipinos as well.
“Seventeen years have passed when Flor was executed in Singapore. However, many Filipino migrant workers abroad are still in death row despite the Magna Carta for Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos, which is supposed to protect migrant workers,” said Gina Esguerra, secretary general of Migrante International.
The Magna Carta for Migrant Workers and and Overseas Filipinos or the Republic Act 8042 institutes policies for the promotion and protection of the welfare of migrant workers, their families and overseas Filipinos. It was enacted in June 1995, several months after Contemplacion’s execution. However, Esguerra said several administrations have passed and OFWs are still at risk not only in the hands of their employers but also in the raging wars in countries like the Middle East and North Africa where several Filipina OFWs are working.
“The protection is just in paper, but in reality, the government does not protect OFWs and the services got worse. Labor export is more intensified under the present administration because the remittances of OFWs contribute to the country’s economy. The government has forsaken the lives of OFWs in exchange for remittances,” she added.
According to a press release of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas overseas Filipino workers sent home $1.6 billion in January, 5.4 percent higher than in the same month last year.
US-Nato wars of aggression
The group call for a stop the US-Nato (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) war of aggression in war-torn countries like in Syria as it endangers the lives of 17,000 Filipino migrant workers in the said country. In a news report, the US is planning to intervene in Syria.
“We are deeply saddened by the death of our fellow Filipino in Syria. We condemn the escalating violence being instigated and aggravated by US-Nato troops and rebels funded by imperialist forces. It is high time that the Aquino regime revises its foreign policy of staunch support for US wars of aggression and the deployment of US troops,” Martinez said.
Meran Prieria Montezor, 23, from Camarines Sur was reportedly killed in an ambush by armed gangs in Homs, Syria on Feb. 24. Montezor was killed along with her employer’s children by unidentified gunmen who opened fire on the car they were riding.
The women OFWs repatriated from Syria also joined the protest rally last Saturday. They called on US-Nato forces to get out of Syria, fearing for the lives of OFWs who are still there. The OFWs who recently formed an alliance called “OFW Survivors from Syria” recounted their traumatic experiences in war-torn Syria and criticized the Philippine government’s slow action and lack of system in its repatriation efforts in Syria.
Martinez said that as they continue to call for more active and systematic repatriation efforts, they are also calling on the Aquino administration to take a position condemning the impending US-Nato military intervention in Syria.
“Our government’s support for the US wars of aggression and deployment of troops continues to endanger the lives of thousands and thousands of Filipinos in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Iraq and wherever else they would want to strike,” he added.
‘Jobs in the Philippines, not outside of the country’
“Could there have been jobs in the country, no Filipino will go abroad, no family will be broken, no children will be left by their mothers,” said Akrima Maguit, spokeswoman of Migrante-Moro.
The lack of jobs in the country and land to till in rural areas, said Maguit, are the reasons why Filipinos go abroad to work. She also blamed the militarization in Mindanao that displaces families from their own land which resulted to dire poverty of their families as soldiers have destroyed their houses as well as their peaceful lives.
“If the government is sincere, it could have created jobs for the people. But the government does not give jobs because they are making profits out of OFWs sweat and blood,” national president of Courage, Ferdinad Gaite said in the protest rally in Mendiola. Gaite criticized the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration or OWWA for charging costly fees.
Elmer Labog, Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) chairman said low salaries also force Filipinos to work abroad. “Minimum wage in National Capital Region is pegged at P404 ($9.61) and P200 plus ($4.7) in the provinces, yet the prices of basic commodities are continuously increasing as well as oil prices. How can Filipino survive with a measly salary?”
Martinez on the other hand further criticized the Aquino administration’s continuous intensification of its labor export policy despite escalating violence and conflicts in the Middle East-North Africa region and the worsening global economic crisis.
“Nothing short of the reversal of the present system will put and end to forced migration. Past and present experiences have revealed the bankruptcy of the labor export policy. What the Aquino administration needs to address is genuine land reform and national industrialization so that Filipinos do not have to leave their families and homeland at great risks and difficulties abroad,” Martinez said.
There are already some 12 million Filipino workers around the world, Migrante said. An estimated 4,500 OFWs leave daily to work abroad.
“For as long as there is landlessness, no domestic jobs are available, and prices continue to soar sky-high, Filipinos will be forced to seek employment abroad despite the ongoing global economic crisis that continues to displace thousands of OFWs or place them on imminent danger of war. It’s a never-ending vicious cycle that will only end if fundamental reforms are in place,” Martinez added.